What Happened to Elisa Lam, Who Was Found Dead on the Roof of an L.A. Hotel in a Water Tank?

The mysterious death of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam is investigated by HLN in the new series "Real Life Nightmares"

Elisa Lam traveled to Los Angeles from her hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, in January 2013 for a week of sightseeing and adventure. But things soon took a mysterious — and deadly — turn. After checking into the Cecil Hotel, the 21-year-old tourist vanished without a trace.

Then, on February 19, 2013, a hotel maintenance worker made a grisly discovery when he found Lam’s body inside a water tank on the roof of the hotel.

How Lam died became a subject of intense speculation and conspiracy theories. Much of that rumor centered on elevator surveillance video, released by police, of Lam’s odd behavior hours before her disappearance. The video shows her, clad in a red hoodie, inside an elevator pushing buttons for multiple floors, peering out of the opened elevator and cautiously stepping out while waving her arms.

Four months after Lam’s death, the L.A. coroner’s office determined that there was no evidence of physical trauma. The manner of death was classified as an accidental drowning and the case was closed.


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But the mystery remains: How did she get onto the locked roof and into the water tank?

Lam’s death is investigated on the Nov. 30 episode of Real Life Nightmare on HLN (8 p.m. ET/PT). The episode, titled “Deadly Hotel Check-In,” interviews insiders with intimate knowledge of the case.

The show focuses on Lam’s strange behavior in the elevator.

“We’re not exactly sure what’s going on,” says one commentator. “She’s pushing buttons, she’s cowering in corners.”

“At one point in the elevator, it looked like maybe she was hiding from someone,” adds forensic psychologist Cheryl Arutt. “She seemed to be hiding in a corner, trying to make herself small and be out of sight if someone were walking by the elevator, and that was one of the moments that was rather odd.”

The show also questions how Lam was able to get into the water tank in the first place — and asks whether she acted alone.

Real Life Nightmare: Deadly Hotel Check-In airs on HLN on Nov. 30 (8 p.m. ET/PT).

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